MDGTJULIE asks: "I had a wonderful cat -- a male mixed breed that died two years ago; partly from Feline Leukemia. He also had a disease called Hemobartonella, which has almost the exact same symptoms that are listed for AIHA. Anyone know if they are one and the same?"
Mycoplasma organisms lack cell walls and depend on the host (in this case, a cat) to survive and reproduce. Once the cat's immune system finds this foreign invader, destruction of infected red blood cells begins, and anemia results. This is similar, but not the same, as AutoImmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) -- a disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly starts destroying healthy red blood cells. The exact cause of AIHA is not known, though there are several possible triggers.
It is not definitively known how Hemobartonella is spread from cat to cat, but blood-sucking insects (fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, etc.) are thought to be the main route of transmission. Blood transfusions and cat fight wounds are other possible routes.
Signs seen in cats with Hemobartonella are related to anemia:
- pale mucous membranes (gums)
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- some show jaundice (yellowing of gums, eyes)
- some have increased respiratory rates
Diagnosis is made by examining red blood cells under a microscope and finding small dots on the cells. Diagnosis can be difficult; the numbers of Hemobartonella organisms can fluctuate greatly and thus may be difficult to spot on a single smear.
Any underlying diseases or stresses must also be addressed, since Hemobartonella can be an opportunistic disease, affecting weakened animals. Antibiotics in the tetracycline family are the treatment of choice for Hemobartonella. Additionally, like AIHA, prednisone may be used to quell the immune system's destruction of red blood cells. In some cats, blood transfusions may be necessary.